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Direct Action vs. Climate Change

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We’re beginning to see some epic action in the climate movements.

At the end of last month in Portland, we saw a beautiful confluence of land, air and sea blockades stopping Shell’s plans to drill the Arctic for two days.

Climbers with Greenpeace and the Indigenous Peoples’ Power Project dangled off the St John’s Bridge to join a mass flotilla of hundreds of kayaktivists below to physically block the departure of Shell’s icebreaker, the Fennica, on the Willamette River. Shell not only responded by having the Coast Guard and state and local police break the blockade, but also had Greenpeace found in contempt of a Federal court for violating a previously existing injunction resulting in huge fines for the organization. Big Oil topples governments, not surprising they’d utilize any means necessary to fight back against scrappy climate activists in the Pacific Northwest.

This past Monday, on the East Tavaputs plateau of Utah, land defenders shut down site-clearing work by the Canadian-owned US Oil Sands company on the first ever tar sands mine in the United States. Four people were arrested as part of a metal tripod blockade that prevented vehicles from passing on roads. Police eventually were forced to deploy a cherry-picker to remove the blockade.

Last summer, 26 were arrested shutting down the site with an ongoing camp on the plateau through the summer deploying actions. This campaign has been challenging US Oil Sands in the political and regulatory spheres as well as the backcountry of Utah’s Book Cliffs for a number of years. 

On Thursday, in the Northeast, things heated up against the build out of the natural gas infrastructure. At the Crestwood Midstream facility in Schuyler County, NY, eight anti-fracking activists were arrested in an ongoing campaign while reading Pope Francis’ recent encyclical letter “On Care for Our Common Home.” Numerous actions have occurred as a result of the “We Are Seneca Lake” campaign. It’s always a happy day when people stand up by sitting in.

On the same day in Burrville, RI, a pediatrician and University of Rhode Island physics professor were arrested while locked to the entrance of a Spectra Energy site supporting the construction of a new fracked gas pipeline. This has also been one of many in an ongoing action campaign.

In Denton, TX, the anti-fracking movement has begun to enforce the fracking ban voted in by popular referendum, but repealed by an oil-complicit state government, with non-violent direct action. In Vermont, environmentalists have been engaged in a fierce fight against another fracked gas pipeline. At Cove Point, Md, another fight against a gas export facility regularly disrupts Big Gas’ business as usual. In British Columbia, the Uni’stoten camp regularly turns back oil company workers and police in defiance of pipeline construction across First Nations land.

The fall promises to be climate action packed as well. Rising Tide North America and allies have put out a call to “Flood the System” in the build up to the UN Climate Talks in Paris. Over 20 “action councils” (and counting) have convened across the U.S. and Canada with plans to flood the systems of capitalism, racism, patriarchy and more driving the climate crisis. Whether they are mass actions like the sort we saw at Flood Wall Street last year, the recent kayaktivist mobilizations in Seattle and Portland or smaller, yet focused, groups of people strategically shutting down fossil fuel infrastructure in places like Rhode Island and Utah, the message will be clear — our popular resistance will directly confront the root causes of the climate crisis.

A brushfire rebellion against climate change and fossil fuels is spreading to challenge carbon spewing industries. Every fight, every action undermines its creditability. The political establishment, the police state, the media and many groups in the environmental non-profit complex have long insulated Big Oil and Big Coal from the grassroots. That is becoming less effective as the climate movements grow bigger, broader and bolder.

After last week’s Utah action, US Oil Sands CEO Cameron Todd, obviously feeling the pressure of falling oil and stock prices, responded to the news of the action with “We’re the environmentalists. We’re the ones looking for a sustainable future.” Whether that is self-deception or spin is irrelevant, as even the oil barons know that their social license is eroding quickly.

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Scott Parkin is a climate organizer working with Rising Tide North America. You can follow him on Twitter at @sparki1969

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